The Best Christmas Gift I ever Received (and surviving the holidays as a new mom)

Good morning!

Do you have any fun plans for Thanksgiving this week?  We are spending the holiday with my husband’s family and I could not be more excited.  I’m looking forward to cold weather, spending time with family and my best friend, and watching James explore new places!

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve been reflecting a lot on last year’s holiday season.  It was my first year as a mom and James was just a newborn (two months old at Thanksgiving) and honestly, parts of it were really tough.

I love the holidays and LOVE traditions.  There is a running joke in my family that they have to be careful because if they do anything twice, I will insist it is a tradition and must be done forever.  This is not far from the truth.

When I was hoping to get pregnant, and the whole year I was expecting James, I would often drift off to sleep at night imagining Christmas with a baby.  I’ve always wanted to be a mom and it always seemed like the holidays would be extra magical with little ones.  And they are.  But they’re also a lot harder.

We had Thanksgiving at our house last year, though we did not really host, as my family brought almost all of the food.  It was pretty much the easiest set up we could have, but it was still hard.  It was hard to fit in cooking the few things I’d said I would make.  It was hard when at the end of the day, James was inconsolable during dinner and wanted only me.

(I later read it is not considered safe to let babies sleep in boppy loungers, but I did not know that at the time)

For Christmas, we drove to my parents’ house, which is only about a three hour drive from us.  At that point, James was three months old and I think he was taking four naps per day.  He also took a LONG time to nurse as an infant, often at least an hour.  I used to use an App to track when he ate and I remember it often being 11-12 hours total nursing time at the end of the day.

Needless to say, that made it hard to fit in all of the Christmas traditions I love.

On Christmas Day, my husband offered to help James fall asleep for all of his naptimes, and that was seriously the best Christmas present I ever received.  Now he (usually) falls asleep peacefully with no fuss, but that was certainly not the case back then!

Especially in a new place and especially when it was not me putting him down for his nap, there was a lot of crying and a lot of time spent consoling.  I was so grateful to my husband for offering to cover nap time, since I was still spending hours upstairs feeding the little guy (yes, I could have just fed him with my family there, but I’m a really private person and wasn’t comfortable with that).

Even with all of the help from my family and husband, it was sort of a hard day (though also a great one in many ways).  I know I could have done a few things differently though, to make it even better.

1. Ask for help!

Not asking for help when I need it is definitely one of my biggest weaknesses (anyone else?  Yeah, I thought so).  It is a good thing my husband is literally the most helpful person on the planet, otherwise I’d be screwed.  Still, asking for help would make both of our lives easier, and is something I’m constantly working on.

2. Have realistic expectations

Even though I was SO excited and thankful to have a new baby, I had trouble letting go of how I pictured the holidays.  I think I’ve gotten a lot better over the past year about going into to things with fewer expectations and being a little more flexible (not natural to me).

3. Set the plan

I was afraid for a while to speak up and tell people what plan / timing would work best for us with a baby.  The thing is, I sort of hate being in charge, but I was the one who knew his nap schedule the best and should have spoken up more when it came to planning things.

All of that said, I have some of the very best memories from last year’s holidays.  I remember infant James staring up at the Christmas tree, completely mesmerized by the lights.  I remember him enjoying the little toys in his stocking, smiling and kicking his chubby legs.  I remember him in his little sweater vest at church, enamored with the lights and startled by the loud music.  I remember how very happy I was to have him, after spending the previous holiday season wishing for a baby so much.

I’m super excited to enjoy the holidays with a little toddler this year and to see what shenanigans he’ll get into.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving!

What’s the best gift you’ve every received?

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving tradition?

 

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Stocking Stuffers – 10 Kitchen Tools for 3-5 year olds

Are you buying gifts for any littles this year?  My little guy isn’t quite old enough to help much in the kitchen, but cooking projects and food preparation work were some of my favorite things to watch the children work on when I was teaching in a Montessori school.

Helping in the kitchen is great for concentration and fine motor skills, and can also help kids get excited about eating different kinds of foods.

If you have a little one on your Christmas list, here are some fun kitchen tool ideas, perfect for tiny hands.  These are generally appropriate for 3-5 year olds, but of course watch your own child for readiness.

Wavy Chopper This lets children as young as three help chop things like carrots or cucumbers.

Mini Pizza Pans How fun would these be for family pizza nights?

Egg Slicer I have only seen these used for eggs, but have read they’re great for mushrooms as well!

Banana Slicer This is definitely not a kitchen essential, but can be fun if you have a child who regularly eats bananas.  After they slice them, they can spread them with nut butter using their own little spreader – there are tons of fun ones out for the holidays.

Mini Potato Masher This is perfect for helping with the mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes for holiday dinners, but it would also work well for making guacamole.

Cherry Pitter This was one of the most beloved food prep works in the class where I taught.

Apple Slicer Some little ones do not yet have the muscle strength to use this on their own yet, but older four year olds or five year olds are often successful with it.

Egg Beater This would be fun for letting your child help with holiday baking.  Handheld mixers like this can also be used for bubble making – all you need is a mixing bowl, water, and a few drops of dish soap.

Spice Grinder or Nut Chopper The options for these are endless, but grinding nutmeg would be fun to fill the house with a nice holiday smell.

Mini Grater These little graters are great for letting your little one help with taco night.

I always love the For Small Hands site for kids’ kitchen tools (and so many other things…) as well.

Do you do stockings in your family?

They’re one of my favorite parts of Christmas!

*Please note this post contains affiliate links – I get a small percentage if items are purchased, at no cost to you.  I only include items I love.  Thanks for your support!

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Montessori Weaning Table Update

I wrote a little bit about our Montessori weaning table here, but realized I hadn’t given an update in quite some time.

We have both a high chair and a little child sized table and chair for James, and we use both almost every day.

At first, we used his little table for all of his meals, but as we started eating meals as a family, James joined us at the big table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  There is no way the three of us could comfortably sit at his little table together.

I use his little table pretty much every day though for his afternoon snack.  I love several things about this.

  1. He can participate in setting the table.  Right now, he just watches me get things from his kitchen drawer, but I’m sure he will be helping with this before long.  I love that he can see the whole process, from set up through clean up.
  2. He can get up when he’s done eating.  The rule is that the food stays at the table, but when he’s done, he can get up.  I think it’s a good experience for him to practice staying at the table until he’s done eating, by choice rather than because he’s strapped in.
  3. He can help clean up!  This may be my favorite thing about his weaning table.  If he spills something in the high chair, there’s no way he can help clean up the mess on the floor.  He may not even see the mess on the floor.  If he spills something in his little chair though, he can see the clean up process, and will sometimes help.  Last week, he spilled his bowl of Cheerios and helped me put them back in the bowl.  I’m not sure how much of this is his desire to help versus his love of putting things in containers, but I’ll take it 🙂

If I can ever make it to IKEA, I want to get another little table for his playroom.  Hopefully that will happen soon!

How do you do meal times and snack times for your kids?

What’s your favorite snack?

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Signs my baby is turning into a toddler

In addition to the obvious fact that he now toddles everywhere, I have seen so many sign that James is no longer a baby and has officially reached toddlerhood.  I used to think this would make me sad, but I can’t be sad about it when he’s so much fun these days!

Here are ten signs I’ve noticed that let me know his baby days are gone.

  1. He has a special radar for finding anything in the room that might be off limits.  This mostly includes cords, electronics, and climbing on tables.
  2. He throws little mini tantrums when something doesn’t go his way, making his body limp, and throwing his little head back with such drama.  He did this ALL week last week as he was teething and by the end of the week, he’d learned to throw himself on the floor, but carefully lower his head down so as not to bump.
  3. He looks at me with the biggest, most mischievous smile before doing something he’s not supposed to
  4. He’s fascinated by putting food in his little water glass – so gross
  5. He has started helping!  He loves choosing a diaper from his basket when he needs one, handing me my shoes if I ask, and will sometimes help pick up legos or spilled Cheerios, it’s the best 🙂
  6. He is always on the go, but gives the best hugs when if he ever slows down.  I call him my reluctant cuddle buddy.
  7. He is getting so many little bumps and bruises, mainly from going too fast or not looking where he’s going.
  8. He loves playgrounds!  This is something I really looked forward to and I’m so happy that the age of playground dates has arrives 🙂  He loves going down the slide and generally exploring and collecting rocks and sticks.
  9. He thinks any and all bodily functions are hilarious.  Unless he’s tired and they they’re terrible and make him cry….
  10. He is fascinated by small objects.  One of his favorite pastimes is collecting little rocks and sticks and trying to pick up bugs.  It is so sweet, but tricky to keep them out of his mouth!

Any advice from toddler mamas?

Any good book recommendations on toddler development?

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Ten Indoor Gross Motor Activities for Toddlers

I mentioned recently, I’ve been looking for more indoor gross motor options for James.  I am a big believer that giving toddlers enough opportunities for big movement helps immeasurably with their behavior.

A toddler climbing on all of the furniture isn’t being “bad,” he just has a strong need to develop his muscles and gross motor capabilities and will use whatever is available to that end.  So if we want to be able to redirect them away from unsafe / undesired climbing / running / throwing, it’s only fair to provide an appropriate outlet.

Here are some options I love!

  1. Beanbag toss – set up a basket and show your toddler how to toss beanbags into it.  As he gets better at it, make the basket smaller or move it further away.
  2. Appropriate climbing – For a young toddler, this could simply be placing large couch cushions on the floor to climb on.  For an older toddler, establish clear guidelines for what they’re allowed to climb on.  For us, climbing on tables is strictly off limits, but he’s allowed to climb on the couch (and has learned how to get down safely by himself).  I also still really want one of these, but haven’t pulled the trigger yet….
  3. Carrying something heavy – Young children seek out “maximum effort” activities.  They like to run as fast as they can and they like to carry objects as heavy as possible.  They’re like little cross fitters 🙂  Try providing something heavy, such as a weighted ball, for your child to carry around the room when he needs to use his big muscles.
  4. Distance Games – Place a puzzle frame on one side of the room and a basket with the pieces on the other side of the room.  Your toddler can walk back and forth across the room each time he needs a piece.  This works better for older toddlers, as it requires greater concentration and memory than most younger toddlers would possess.
  5. Balance Beam –   This would be simple to make yourself and I definitely plan on doing it soon.  Walking on a beam helps children with concentration and coordination, in addition to being  a great gross motor option.
  6. Large Blocks – Building with really large blocks encourages children to move around and reach up high, and also allows them to build paths or obstacle courses if they want to. (A more expensive, but really nice option)
  7. Obstacle Course – You can get a tunnel or just use things around the house to make an obstacle course.  Set one up for your child the first time, and then encourage him to make his own next time.
  8. Walking the Line – Walking the line is a traditional control of movement game used in Montessori 3-6 classrooms.  There is a line on the floor (often made with electrical tape, often in an ellipse shape) and children practice carefully walking on it, either as a group or individually.  This is often done to music.  This can be fun with older toddlers too, if they’re interested.
  9. Jump Boxes – Another fun one that requires nothing other than electrical tape and encourages coordination and controlled movement
  10. Climbing Stairs – We have a one story house, but my son loves climbing stairs whenever we encounter them.  If you have stairs at home, climbing up and down can be a great way for young toddlers to practice their new skills.

All of these activities can be done independently once you show your toddler how.  This is key so that he’ll have an appropriate outlet he can choose himself when he needs to move big.

If you’re interested in more ways to encourage movement in young children, I highly recommend the book Movement Matters.  I saw the author speak at a national Montessori conference and bought it immediately.  It’s written for teachers, but has many activities that would be great at home too.

How do you encourage appropriate gross motor in your home?  I would love any tips!

*Please note this post contains affiliate links – I get a small percentage if items are purchased, at no cost to you.  I only include items I have and love.  Thanks for your support!

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Montessori Fundamentals: the three hour work period

“But the first step (toward concentration) is so fragile, so delicate, that a touch can make it vanish again, like a soap bubble, and with it goes all the beauty of that moment.” Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Good morning and happy Monday!

Continuing with my Montessori Fundamentals series, I want to talk today about the three hour work period.

If you visit a Montessori classroom, one thing you would notice is that the children stay in one classroom working for a long period of time, generally three hours, though it can vary by age and school.

Children do not switch from English to Math to Art every hour.  They spend their time in one environment where all of these subjects are included.

As noted here on the American Montessori Society website, three-hour work periods are not generally appropriate for very young children, such as infants and toddlers.  Infant and toddler classes still have very minimal group activities or transitions, just with shorter work cycles that are developmentally appropriate.

Why It’s Important:

One main reason that Montessori classes don’t have pull-outs or adult-directed activity changes is to protect children’s growing concentration.  While some see the role of a teacher as a person who directly imparts knowledge, a Montessori teacher’s role is more indirect.  One of the primary roles of a Montessori teacher is to provide a stimulating environment and then protect concentration so that a child can discover things for himself.  This simply can’t be done in 45 minute increments.

The Work Period in the Classroom:

A Montessori class has as few interruptions and transitions as possible.  Many Montessori teachers have a “circle time” at the end of a work period where the group comes together, but even this time is generally optional.  If a child wants to keep working, he may.

Thus work time is interrupted for lunch and outside play, but that is about it.  A typical schedule might be:

  • 8-11 individual work time
  • 11-11:45 lunch
  • 11:45-12:30 outside play, with a similar structure in the afternoon.

That is not to say that a child sits and works on the same thing for three hours straight – far from it!  A child may do 2-3 pieces of work in that time, or he may do 8-10.  It depends on the child and the day.  A child may work on math for the entire three hours, or he may split his time between reading and math and geography and art.  He receives some guidance from the teacher when necessary, but how he spends his time is mainly up to him.

Having long stretches of time encourages children to engage deeply with the materials and develop concentration.

How can I use it at home?

As a teacher of young children, parents would often ask us what kinds of things they should have at home to help their child with school.  We almost always replied that no academic materials at home were necessary, or even advised (apart from reading lots of books of course!)  Children need a place of refuge, just like adults, a place to just relax and have fun.  If they’re in school all day, or even half of the day, they are likely getting all of the academic practice they need.

One thing you can do at home though is to encourage concentration and independence, which will help a child in school (and life!) more than any workbook.

You can use the same approach of the three-hour work cycle at home by allowing your child regular stretches of unstructured time.  It might be uncomfortable at first, but through having this time at home, he will be able to explore what he’s really interested in and will have the time to concentrate on it.

It may not be realistic to have uninterrupted three-hour stretches at home – and that’s okay!    Life happens.  Right now, with a one year old, I aim to have 1 – 1 1/2 hour stretches of play without interruption.  This isn’t to say that we don’t interact in this time, but that we stay in the same environment, inside or out, with no structured activities or plan.

Any amount you can increase your child’s true free time to explore will help him learn to concentrate and to entertain himself.

Will he get bored?  Yes!  Almost certainly.  And, in my opinion, that’s more than okay, it’s incredibly useful.  It’s through being bored that children learn to use their imaginations, to look deeper into their surroundings and find something interesting, and to engage with the world.  A certain amount of boredom is good.

If you’d like to read more, I really liked this post on the subject and this post, which includes a beautiful short video of one 4 year old’s morning in a Montessori classroom.

Please leave any questions you may have about Montessori in the comments, I would love to address them!

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Guest Post: Tips for Playfulness and Roughhousing

Good morning and happy Friday!

I’m excited to share a guest post today from Laura at Listening for Good, a fellow Austin blogger who writes about respectful parenting and education.  She has a masters from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is an instructor with Hand in Hand Parenting, a positive parenting organization that works with families to build stronger parent-child connections.

Today I’m sharing a post that originally appeared on her awesome blog about how to have fun and play with your child, while still respecting them and the inherent power differential between a child and an adult.  I loved this post and I hope you do too!

Tips for Playfulness and Roughhousing

By Laura Minnigerode

I have been trying some new playful parenting tools. Play is an amazing connector of hearts and creator of laughs, two really important and valuable things! It just does not always come naturally for me.

One thing that does help, though, is a good list of starting points!  My sources for these ideas: Hand in Hand Parenting‘s wonderful resources, and the books Playful Parenting and the Art of Roughhousing. Share more ideas with me in the comments or on Facebook in my Parenting by Connection group.

 1   Tune in, don’t swoop in. This kind of playfulness is about connection. It is important that your child has the upper hand in the power balance. At the same time, it is such a good chance to pay close attention to cues. It is vital that you honor this.   

2  Think of ways to be silly. Look for any possible avenue. Go way over board on this. Some examples: Pretend you forgot what day it is, or that you are mixed up about the way to pronounce something. Hold the homework paper upside down while trying to figure it out. With toddlers, especially, any thing that produces laughter is a winner.

3  Play may lead to big feelings. Tears or upset during or after play times are ok! It does not mean you did it wrong. Listen to the feelings that come up and stay present. In fact: sometimes imperceptible and even imaginary hurts can come up during play, and respond as if they are real and important.

4  Careful but not too much caution. It is good and so important to be safe. When doing active play like a pillow fight, choose your space with this in mind, and remove any potential hazards.  At the same time, try not to project an overly cautious attitude. When kids see that you are attentive to safety but also trust their play, it’s an incredibly powerful message. This is a big step towards resilience.

5  Don’t tickle. It is an uncomfortable feeling that takes power away. Parents generally have more power so it is valuable to invert that relationship in play.

 6 Use Listening Time to get support. Save your responses and use the support of another person or listener, that is the place to process your annoyance, anxiety or frustration about parenting.

Check out Laura’s blog for more great tips, as well as parenting workshops!

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November Goals

Good morning and happy first of November!

I normally set a series of small goals each month, but this month I have one really BIG goal that I’m excited to share.  But first, here’s a look at last month’s goals to keep me accountable:

October Goals:

Make Montessori work for James:

Yes!  I did lots of this and it has been so rewarding to watch him play with and love many of the things I made for him.  I shared a few of these here, but will share some more easy ideas soon.

Work on long-term writing projects:

Ehh, sort of?  I started one project that’s been on my mind for a while, but didn’t get very far.  I’d give myself a C – on this one.

Find / make fun recipes for James:

No, I did hardly any of this.  On the plus side, James is eating mostly what we eat now, so it’s becoming less necessary.  He did try and love turkey chili and corn chowder this month!

Choose a half marathon plan:

Yes!  I’ve made a training plan for myself and started following it and so far it’s going great!  It involves a LOT less running than a typical half marathon plan, but that is what I need given my long-term foot injury.  My basic plan is:

  • Tuesdays: Easy run of 3-5 miles – My husband sometimes works from home on Tuesdays, so if that’s the case, I’ll do this during naptime.  Otherwise, it will be a stroller run.
  • Thursdays: Short two mile speed interval run on the treadmill or tempo outside + short strength or yoga (loving this yoga video)  If my foot starts really bothering me, I’ll ditch the speed work and switch to a longer strength workout.
  • Saturdays: Long run.  Right now I’m only at 7 miles, but I have almost three months, so I can build up to twelve or so miles gradually.

I’m hopeful that my daily walking and the added difficulty of stroller runs will make this enough…we shall see.

November Goals

I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo)!

That’s right, only one goal this month.  I’m equally excited and terrified to do this because I honestly don’t know where I will find the time, BUT, I was thinking about it and realized this is probably the least busy I will be for many years (yikes…).

I feel busy many days, but I’m a stay at home mom to one child.  I plan to hopefully have more children and go back to work, so with that in mind, I will only become busier over the coming years and I’m not ready to let go of this life goal of mine.

One caveat – the program is set up to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.  There is of course a lot of variance, but I believe the average novel these days is around 80,000 words.  I already have about 20,000 words, so hopefully I can at least get close to finishing.  I’m going with a goal of writing 50,000 words rather than a goal of finishing.

If I start to feel like the quality is suffering, I will step back from the word count and make some other type of tangible daily writing goal.  For me, this is less about finishing the writing project I’m working on and more about creating a daily habit and carving out time to work toward my big goals.

I’m excited and I would love to connect with anyone who also wants to do this!

Do you have any November goals?  Please share in the comments!

P.S. If you’re looking for something to read, check out this article I wrote on how rewards impact children!

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